City officials in Everett – that’s in western Washington state – are taking a bold step in their effort to control the opioid crisis. The city filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer of OxyContin, a leading opioid pain medication, claiming the manufacturer knew the drug was being illegally trafficked to residents and did not act to stop it. The suit accuses the manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, of gross negligence.
Attorneys in West Virginia, which has the highest opioid overdose rate in the nation, filed lawsuits in federal court Thursday on behalf of two counties and targeting some of the nation’s largest drug distribution companies. A dozen attorneys general in hard-hit states are considering similar suits against many of the same companies.
“The purpose of these lawsuits is to make the economic cost of willfully violating the law so significant that we force the wholesalers to abide by the law,” said Paul Farrell Jr., who filed the lawsuits in West Virginia and plans to file lawsuits on behalf of five other counties in the state next week.
The suits are among the first of their kind in the country. They accuse the companies of creating a hazard to public health and safety by shipping inordinate quantities of opioids into the state in violation of a West Virginia law. The law was originally designed to permit the demolition of run-down buildings that posed a public nuisance and threatened the safety of a community.
The lawsuits name McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen — which distribute 85 percent of the nation’s drugs. Also named are Walgreens, CVS and others.
The County Legislature voted Thursday to have Schenectady County become the fourth New York county to sue large pharmacy companies over costs incurred by the county in fighting the epidemic of heroin and prescription opioid abuse.
The lawsuit charges that some drug manufacturers promoted long-established opioid drugs for use as long-term painkillers — despite knowing their addictive properties — and that that has lead to overdose deaths and greater social services, law enforcement and jail costs for the county, as people become addicted and commit crimes to get or pay for drugs.
The Simmons Hanly Conroy firm has filed several lawsuits on behalf of New York counties against pharmaceutical manufacturers and physicians, alleging the counties have spent millions of dollars fighting an opioid drug epidemic they say was caused by aggressive marketing.
“As a direct and foreseeable consequence of Defendants’ wrongful conduct, Plaintiff has been required to spend millions of dollars each year in its efforts to combat the public nuisance created by Defendants’ deceptive marketing campaign,” the suits state.
The Simmons firm, based in Alton, has built its business on asbestos litigation. It filed its most recent suits on behalf of Erie County in Buffalo on the state’s western border and Broome County in Binghamton in south central last month in those respective state courts.
And, the Teamsters:
Newly focused on an issue that is ravaging its members, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters on Thursday plans to challenge one of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical wholesalers, demanding that AmerisourceBergen Corp. investigate its own sales practices and potential supply chain diversions, and factor compliance into its executives’ pay.
The Chesterbrook-based company, ranked 12th by revenue on the Fortune 500, is holding its annual shareholder meeting in Philadelphia, and the union pension and benefits funds own an undisclosed share. But any shareholder can attend the closed meeting. Representatives said they will question the board and hold an afternoon rally outside.
The response could be characterized as blaming the victim, claiming that the lawsuits are diverting attention from addressing the crisis.